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Freelance dancer Hamp finds the freedom is worth the effort

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Freelance dancer Hamp finds the freedom is worth the effort



"The consolation is that you have something that makes sense in your life.”

Laurice Hamp was speaking of her peripatetic lifestyle as “private contractor” dancer, teacher and assistant artistic director of Ann Arbor’s Dance Theater 2. Hamp took time out from the company’s preparations for its upcoming two weekends of concerts, beginning tonight at Performance Network, to talk about her survival as a dancer and DT2’s growth as a local company.

Freelancing as a dancer in New York is a possibility, but what about in Ann Arbor? Can a dancer make a living here? The answer is yes, but barely. It takes a maverick’s spirit and energy to spare.

The 34-year-old Hamp, who holds a master’s degree in dance from the University of Michigan, has been an Ann Arbor resident for eight years. She taught as a graduate student while at the University and later at the now defunct Hydra Dance Studio. “We were so inexperienced,” she said of that group of teachers, that we didn’t even know how much to charge or how many students we needed to make it work.” She has since fine-tuned the calculations.

“Noonie,” as her friends call her, teaches 13 classes a week at Dance Theater 2 Studio, at Washtenaw Community College, and at Dance Space on State Street. Her 40-hour work week includes preparing, teaching and taking classes, as well daily company rehearsals.

“A 40-hour dance job is not equal to a 40-hour desk job,” she explained. “This is like jogging 40 hours a week." The pace can take its toll in injury or illness, double jeopardy for most dancers who lack the health insurance benefits that a regular job provides. “I got sick last year.” Hamp recalled, “and had to go to the emergency room and have testing done. It cost me $900.

Although college teaching and its relative security may be in Hamp’s future (she got the MFA to prepare herself for that), right now it is the company that is the focus of her life.

“We are not a ‘pickup’ company (a term applied to a loose amalgam of dancers who regroup with each concert and who rehearse infrequently),” she said of the troupe. “We are working every day, something I don’t think people realize. This is also a more mature group; the average age is mid- to late 20s. They are committed to what they are doing and have arranged their lives so that they can dance.” Hamp is one of the more fortunate ones who have been able to secure enough work teaching. About two-thirds of the 15-member group are still working at a wide variety of non-dance occupations, including chemist, baker, dental hygienist and contractor.

The DT2 machinery may be in place but, like all Michigan dance companies, it is in need of the oiling that only money can provide. Hamp’s first priority is production assistance, which would free dancers’ time and energy to focus on their real job of dancing. Concert time finds company members involved in such tasks as laying their own dance floor (a six-hour project), hanging their own lights and providing their own costumes.

Poor pay, long hours, no security. Why do freelancers like Hamp persist? She answers with a list of intangibles: the luxury of working every day in dance, the knowledge that creativity is flowing easier, a new-found confidence that artistic director J. Parker Copley’s leadership in the company provides. In essence, she offered matter-of-fact!y.“The end justifies the means. "

Dance Theater 2 performs tonight and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 4 p.m., Nov. 2 and 3 at 8 p.m. and Nov. 4 at 4 p.m. at Performance Network, 408 W. Washington St. There are two different programs to be performed on alternate days. Tickets are $6, $5 for students and seniors. Call 995-4242 for more information.


Laurice 'Noonie' Hamp: 'like jogging 40 hours a week'